March 27, 2016
First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Reading the news sometimes causes me to despair. There are so many events happening every day, it’s impossible to keep track. Not only that, but so many bad things are happening that somebody needs to address: terrorist attacks, failed education systems, pollution, crime. It is so impossible for me to solve all of these problems by myself that it becomes easy to dismiss them as someone else’s responsibility. Yet sometimes there is a story that I can do something about. It might not be reported in the newspaper, but certain stories invite me to participate, yes, even demand my intervention. The story we hear today, on this holiest day of the year, Easter Sunday, is a story that demands our involvement.
What Has Happened
In the first reading, we find St. Peter at the household of Cornelius. He is not there by accident, but an angel appeared to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and told him to go get Peter. Cornelius sends messengers to find him and bring him back. Cornelius and his household believe in God, but they are Gentiles, not Jews. Yet when Peter arrives, he realizes the outworking of God’s plan. God has chosen to extend the plan of salvation to the Gentiles! (Acts 10:34-35) In response to this realization, Peter begins to preach the story of Jesus. He recalls what happened in Jesus’ life—how he healed people and cast out demons. He tells about how Jesus was especially anointed with the power of God to save others. While Luke, the author of Acts, gives us an abbreviated account of the speech, it was probably a more lengthy explanation of Jesus’ ministry.
What He Did
Peter reports, “we are witnesses to all that he did” (Acts 10:39 RSV). As we know from the Gospels, Peter was with Jesus every step of the way. He saw with his own eyes all the healings, the miracles, the exorcisms. He listened to Jesus preach and even saw him on trial. Peter also was one of the first to see the empty tomb. Peter explains the most significant of Jesus’ earthly acts: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest” (Acts 10:39-40). While the teachings and miracles of Jesus amaze us even today, they pale in comparison with the significance of what we celebrate in Holy Week: Jesus did not just die as a common criminal. He defeated death. While his enemies thought that they were winning by destroying Jesus, in fact, his death is the great victory over sin and his resurrection shows that he indeed triumphed over the grave. Not only that, but we have hope in him that we too can defeat death by relying on his saving deeds.
What God Did
Peter attributes the resurrection to God the Father: “God raised him…and made him manifest” (10:40). This attribution parallels many other New Testament texts that point to the whole Trinity’s involvement in this awesome deed: “God raised him up” (Acts 2:24); “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom 6:4); “God raised the Lord” (1 Cor 6:14); “God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1). The resurrection was not a solo performance, but was an awesome display of the Trinity working in unity. God the Father intervenes to raise Jesus from the dead and then causes him to appear to his disciples.
Whom He Chose
Peter points out that Jesus was not seen by everyone after the resurrection. He appeared “not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41). Peter and the other apostles were not random, chance witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Rather, they were chosen in advance by God to witness the resurrection. They were appointed to the role of witness, not just to see the body of Jesus, but to commune with him, to eat with him, to see for themselves that he was no mere ghost, but was truly, bodily alive. But why? While it would be tempting to suggest that Jesus came back to console his friends and to take care of them emotionally, in fact, he was not bringing them back to himself. Rather, he came back in order to send them out, to truly make them apostles, “sent ones.” Under most circumstances, only a few dozen people attend a funeral. Though a single person might have met many people, only so many are so personally invested in him or her that they feel deeply affected by the person’s death. Jesus’ death is different. His death, and therefore his resurrection, affects every human being. It matters to everyone. He came back from the grave to show us the path that leads to life, and to give us victory over our own worst enemy: death.
This is where the story meets us. The report of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus is not just another interesting biblical miracle. It is the definitive moment when everything changes. This story invites us in. It does not pass us by without our involvement, but rather it demands our response. Jesus claims to be God, preaches to his disciples, dies on a cross, and rises again. If we ignore him, we do so at our own peril. If he is who he claims to be, then we must respond to his message, to his life and most of all to his resurrection. Many people have died for good causes, but only one has come back from death to tell us about it. He’s the one worth believing in. His cause is our cause and we hope in his resurrection that we might be victorious through him: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57). Alleluia!
image: Harrowing of Hell (Master of the Osservanza) by Jim Forest / Flickr